THE AFL and broadcasters are exploring ways to heighten fan engagement during crowd-less matches, including the potential of in-game vision of supporters watching from home.
The idea isn't quite the AFL's answer to Gogglebox – the hit TV program where everyday people are filmed watching and commenting on a variety of shows – but would see fans involved in the coverage.
It's believed League headquarters is hopeful the clubs can help facilitate the concept, which may see members videoing themselves for use in the match broadcast and/or on the scoreboard.
The preference is to reward paid-up fans who remained loyal during the COVID-19 crisis, while social media messages from fans could be beamed onto the coverage even more than normal.
All 18 teams are brainstorming options to enhance members' and supporters' game experience during the unique circumstances of the pandemic but are waiting for AFL approval.
Collingwood chief executive Mark Anderson last week publicly raised the possibility of placing cardboard cutouts in the empty stands with select members' digital faces on them.
Some other clubs are also open to using cardboard cutouts, which have been on display in Germany's Bundesliga and South Korea's baseball league and can be monetised.
This South Korean baseball team is putting cardboard cutouts of real fans in the stands for their socially distant games pic.twitter.com/OuyNHVvfQF— NowThis (@nowthisnews) May 13, 2020
AFL.com.au understands the AFL blocked clubs' attempts to use cutouts in the opening round, with teams instead resorting to placing jumpers on seats or using a crepe banner in the cheer squad area.
They are likely to again receive access to some space behind the goals.
Spike Creative and TLA Australia are pitching cardboard cutouts to clubs, with Collingwood and the Western Bulldogs committed to the concept and a handful of others also keen.
Those two clubs found sponsors to underwrite the costs, and the cutouts, which attach to seats and will have select members' faces on them, will remain in the stands then go to fans as keepsakes.
"My idea was if you can't physically be there, then to be there virtually, as a passionate member, is the next-best thing," Spike Creative owner Mick Russell told AFL.com.au of the Virtual Army concept.
"The fact it's ongoing at games means you might not see yourself in the first game but you will at some stage and you'll get it as a keepsake for the pool room – a cutout from the COVID generation."
There could be an opportunity for fans to pay to have their face on cutouts as well but with so many out of work or struggling financially, clubs are wary about asking for more money.
The NRL is charging fans $22 for their own cardboard cutout that will be placed in the ground of your choice for the duration of the season and images are uploaded to a central location.
It's understood the broadcasters have their own virtual crowd concept in the works but Channel Seven declined to comment on the finer details.
Channel Seven has already committed to trialling canned crowd noise in the early rounds, with managing director Lewis Martin telling AFL.com.au: "Ultimately, the viewers will decide."
Brisbane captain Dayne Zorko has inspired a Lions match-day idea, where players' favourite songs will be blasted through the speakers after they kick a goal.
Other clubs, such as Hawthorn, are looking into ways to provide behind-the-scenes access to fans outside the exclusive two-hour broadcast window.